Thursday, April 30, 2020

Old Songs

Year 8-Day 121: Today, I am grateful for old songs.

Year 8... and I am pretty sure this is a first. WHAT? How can it be? I love old songs. They take us back to a time, a place, a feeling... a moment. There are some people I still think of because of a song. 

Mary Wood... a sweet friend from high school had this resonate voice. "June Is Busting Out All Over" is "her song" although there was a whole chorus of dancers. Kristin Knief Ahrens... you are my "Big Spender" partner and we dance to it in my Zumba class... and "It Might Be You" from Tootsie.  Dale Hoogstraat... I believe "Hello Again" was our song. Steve Odette... "The One You Love" was a sweet dance at the end of a fun season as "husband and wife". Kelly Cawthon Berry... so many are you. "You'll Never Walk Alone", "Sunrise Sunset" and "Rainy Days and Mondays". Lana Frake and Sally Sweeney Rosenboom... "I Will Survive" and Meatloaf's "Bat out of Hell" album. Seriously, there are so many songs that take us back to a place of sweet comfort. Amy Grant and BJ Thomas... I knew every word of so many of their Contemporary Christian albums. 

The longest list would be those shared with The Love Of My Life. He is my person. He has been for so many years... and each year those old songs grow a little sweeter. "You're the Inspiration", "Life in a Northern Town", "There is Love" and so many more. Each season together has a list. "Don't Wake Up the Baby" and "The Lion Sleeps Tonight" reflect unique seasons. I am so grateful we can share old songs at any time. 

When I hear those songs today, I still smile and think of the places and the people. 

It is one of the seasons when we need to step back and plug in the old songs. 

They didn't have radios in the days of King David, but I am sure he used songs for comfort in the same way he used his music to calm King Saul when he was a boy. 

"My heart is confident in you, O God;no wonder I can sing your praises with all my heart! Wake up, lyre and harp!  I will wake the dawn with my song.I will thank you, Lord, among all the people.I will sing your praises among the nations." -Psalm 108:1-3

Every old song was once a new song. My favorites are never far from my memory. They are always a comfort. I've listened to several while writing this. 

What are the old songs that bring you back to a sweet and comfortable place? Enjoy a few today. 

Today, I am grateful for old songs.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

The Trustworthy

Year 8-Day 120: Today, I am grateful for the trustworthy.

When someone or something is trustworthy, it is valuable. Trustworthy seems to be in short supply.

Forgive me.. and this post is never to be political... but for heaven's sake, is there anyone trustworthy in politics? Some days, it feels like we are living in the world of the "Hunger Games" and I am wondering what "District" I live in (a nod to my niece Ciara... your Mom says we think alike).

Mark Twain said this: "Politicians and diapers must be changed often, and for the same reason." That is all I am going to say about that. 

This season makes me even more grateful for the truly trustworthy people and things in my life. My ugly old stove... that thing is trustworthy. It won't die. My sump pump has proven to be trustworthy(but we do have an Ace in the Hole for back up). My favorite pair of shoes are trustworthy companions for my feet on long days. I have friends and family who are reliable in every way. The Love-of-my-Life is trustworthy and has been a great example for our children. I have so much to be grateful for today. 

Psalm 56... David wrote it when he was taken by the Philistines in Gath. The Philistines had not forgotten David's battle with their star soldier, Goliath so many years before his capture. David must have been scared. Then, he remembered that he was never alone. Not as a shepherd. Not as a boy against a giant of a man. Not when he was captive in the land of his enemies. He knew he was never alone.

"But when I am afraid, I will put my trust in you." -Psalm 56:3

David knew his Lord was trustworthy. Not matter his living circumstances. He could find respite in time alone with the God his soul loved. 

In these confusing times, we can trust in the same God who protected and rescued David time and time again. This is a chapter in our lives, it is not the whole story. We can trust the author and perfecter of our faith. 

Today, I am grateful for the trustworthy. 

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Blue-footed Booby

Year 8-Day 119: Today, I am grateful for the Blue-Footed Booby. 

This bird is real. Look it up on National Geographic. There are some YouTube clips capturing the mating dance. 

Their diet is mostly small fish.  They can be found on the Gulf of California down along the western coasts of Central and South America down to Peru, they add color and humor to the land. Half of the breeding pairs can be found on the Gal├ípagos Islands.

My SIL, Jennifer, posted this image yesterday and I knew I had to save it for today's gratitude. Not only does the image make me laugh, it reminds me that our God expresses whimsy in some of nature's most fascinating creatures. 

People are feeling a little stir crazy. One thing to help relieve boredom is to ask, "Where do you find your whimsy?" 

For some, it is in the flower bed. For others, the kitchen is where they can express themselves best. Grab a paint brush or  some markers and draw something that makes your smile. I think some of the personalized emojis add whimsy to our text conversations. 

Nature is full of unusual sights and wonders. It is why so many find great joy worshiping in the wild. Jesus, too, would find quiet places in the wilderness to recharge. Perhaps, this Psalm would run through His mind:

"I will meditate on your majestic, glorious splendor and your wonderful miracles." -Psalm 145:5

Today, I am grateful for the Blue-Footed Booby. 

Monday, April 27, 2020

Living In-Love Not In-Law

Year 8-Day 118: Today, I am grateful for living In-love not in-law. 
Today, my big brother turned 70. I didn't grow up with him, he came in the package with the Love-of-My-Life and the last name Smith. Happy Birthday, Monte Carl Willis Smith! We are happy to celebrate you, today. We are grateful for God's hand on you with every health struggle. 

This is the Smith family photo from Chase and Emma's wedding. Most the the people in this photo were born Smiths. A few of us chose to be in relationship with this goofy clan. 

Monte and Jan have been more like grand-parents to the boys than Uncle and Aunt. Every time we are together we laugh, play and make some memories. The more the merrier! The more of the extended family added in, the better it gets. My kids have fabulous aunts and uncles on both sides of the family. We don't think about who is the actual relative. In-love trumps in-law every time. Love is bigger than blood. 

When we officially add Walker's sweetie,Abigail, to the family, we will add another "in-love" to the mix. We look forward to the day. On the same note, I am grateful that my sons are experiencing more in-love than in-law with their bride's families. The law is the law, but love is a beautiful choice. 

This passage is the Book of Ruth reminds us of what it means to marry into another family:

"But Ruth replied, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God."-Ruth 1:16

Now... that is commitment. This passage was conversation between a daughter-in-law and a mother-in-law. Both were widowed. Both were hurting. Love persisted. Love won. 

Love always wins. 

Today, I am grateful for living in-love not in-law. 

Sunday, April 26, 2020

The Zephyr

Year 8-Day 117: Today, I am grateful for the gentle, mild breeze known as a zephyr. 

The zephyr breeze brushes our senses like a gentle kiss. It is pure delight, reminding us to celebrate the days that are near perfect. 

Winter wasn't that long ago. Late winter snows dipped into spring, yet here we are again. Spring has sprung. The blue-jays are looking for nests to steal. The robin's song is sweet. The wildlife is moving, leaping and dancing in the trees and on the ground. It is one of my favorite seasons. 

A zephyr breeze does not disrupt or cause chaos. Think about it. A pleasant sensation but nothing is disturbed. One is actually floating across my face as I write this post. Perfect timing. The scent calls me back to childhood days.

There is a mystery to the breeze. Where does it begin? Where does it end? We can't see it, but we know it is real. 

Just as you cannot understand the path of the wind or the mystery of a tiny baby growing in its mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the activity of God, who does all things. -Ecclesiastes 11:5

Nature is magnificent. It reflects the Creator in the seen and unseen. 

Today, I am grateful for the gentle, mild breeze known as a zephyr. 

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Rest For The Soul

Year 8-Day 116: Today, I am grateful for rest for the soul. 

"Sleep doesn't help if it's your soul that is tired." -unknown

Our souls are what separates us from the animals God created. He spoke the word and creation came to life and it was good. He created so many living, breathing things, but His breath... He only gave his breath to man. Isn't that something to ponder? 

God breathed into us. 

Then the Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground. He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person. -Genesis 2:7

What makes that so important? I am not a trained theologian, but I've read the scriptures long enough to know that they illuminate and support each other. God's breath is pretty important. When he speaks, we had best listen. When he whispers... we should tremble with that holy fear that speaks volumes about relationship. 

Remember when you were little? When your parents spoke, you knew you should listen even though there were times we didn't. When they whispered, we stood at attention. 

I love this passage where Jesus speaks to us about the burdens we insist on carrying when he is willing to trade the load:

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”-Matthew 11:28-30

My family and friends trade the load with me all the time. They know I have some physical limitations. They offer to take the load so I don't injure myself. It is humbling and I don't relish not being able to physically carry the heavy load I once could. But, I have learned some soul deep lessons. When someone really loves you, they are willing to trade the burden for your good. Not for your glory, but for your good. 

What is hard for us to carry, he takes on without any struggle. Why do we fight to keep our burdens? Why do wait until the point of soul exhaustion before we turn it over to the one who is eager to ease our struggles? Human pride gets in the way. 

Note that Jesus says, "The burden I give you is light. " He offers humbly and gently to give us rest. He pours light into our lives and lightens our load. That, my friends, is how a soul is refreshed and a spirit renewed. 

It is how a soul finds rest... and a good night's sleep. 

Today, I am grateful for rest for the soul. 

Friday, April 24, 2020

Small Acts of Kindness of Love

Year 8-Day 115: Today, I am grateful for the small acts of kindness and love that keep the darkness at bay.

I had an exchange with a student about "The Lord of the Rings" series this week. I have never read it, but she's read it twice during the quarantine. I wonder if this quote stood out to her? It is perfect for this new reality we are living. 

"Some believe that it is only GREAT POWER that can hold evil in check. But, that is not what I've found. I found it is the SMALL THINGS, every day deed by ordinary folk that keeps the darkness at bay. Small acts of LOVE and KINDNESS." - Gandalf, The HobbitJRRR Tolkien 

It is the smallest acts of kindness and love that are pouring hope and light into our days. 

John Krasinski has been highlighting "Some Good News" around the world. It can be found on YouTube. He highlights the good stuff people are doing to help each other through these days of "staying in place" and "social distancing". 

Concerts are popping up on FaceBook live. People are waving to each other and offering friendly faces from a distance. From the same distance, where we were once in a hurry and impatient. My friend, Roxanne, shared an article that was noting the decline in heart attacks and strokes since we've been forced to slow down. That certainly gives us a reason to pause and contemplate the good in the bad, right? 

Ordinary people are dropping items off to neighbors, simply because they have enough to share. As a virus has attempted to keep us apart, in many ways, we are growing closer. We are bonding over our shared inconveniences and our sorrow for those impacted.  We are praying for and cheering on those at risk on the front lines. We are making memories with loved ones near and far. Genuine needs increase our generosity. We become more grateful for the simplest of items, like toilet paper. 

Generosity in action is a beautiful, comforting force. 

"And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ.  Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people." -Philemon 6-7

Great powers come and go. Love and kindness echo into eternity. Don't be afraid of the dark. 

Today, I am grateful for the small acts of kindness and love that keep the darkness at bay.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The Good Things I Wasn't Seeing

Year 8-Day 114: Today, I am grateful for "the good things I wasn't seeing." 

I stumbled onto this quote today. It wraps up this season in a nutshell:

"You'll always have bad times, but it'll wake you up to the good stuff you weren't paying attention to." -Robin Williams, Good Will Hunting

This quarantine is going to continue for awhile longer, so let's focus on re-framing it into something more manageable. It is a time to take in the good things in our lives we were to busy to see. 

Remember when those stops we had to make felt as if they were cutting into our time at home in the evening? They do, but we miss the freedom to choose how we spend our after work hours. 

On the other side of the coin, the time at home has some health benefits. Life is moving a little slower. We are not double booked and overbooked. Learning to slow down has its benefits. 

Make a list of the things you appreciate more because other things are missing. 

Make a list of the things, places or services you will not take for granted for a long time when they open up again. 

Make a list of the things you thought were important, but really just took time away from the really important stuff. 

All of our lists are unique. We all see the world a little differently. Hard times wake us up to the good stuff we weren't seeing. Difficulties often help us recalculate our priorities. 

For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes. -Proverbs 5:21

How are we spending our days? 

Today, I am grateful for "the good things I wasn't seeing ." 

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Limiting Our Fears

Year 8-Day 113: Today, I am grateful we can limit the power of fear.

Sometimes, I need a little Bob Goff to brighten my day.(I need to remember to pray for his sweet wife Maria, as she has her hands full with him.) If you've not read "Love Does" and "Everybody, Always" use this time of quarantine to read something that will brighten your day and lighten your soul. 

Early this morning, a group of friends gathered online for prayer. One friend shared this passage: 

"May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope. -Romans 15:13

Good stuff, right? We are living in a time when fears are high and solutions seem limited or unknown. For many, it is easy to feel hopeless and helpless, if we forget the source of our peace and joy. 

I am not minimizing those who have ill loved ones. I ache for families...  including ours ...  with family members who have compromised immune systems or with other health issues. This all feels so scary at times. It is hard to be with people who are hurting when we are, literally, not allowed to be "with people". This is the strangest season.

Later, another friend from my morning prayer group shared this image because she knows I love Bob's books. She shared the image with this quote:

"Fear only has the power we give it. Hope works in the same way."  - Bob Goff

I am absolutely aware that God speaks through His Word, His children and His Holy Spirit. Still, it makes my senses come fully alive when it happens.The good kind of chills, right?  

Interestingly enough... I could not find one other passage where the exact words "God of Hope" is used. The timing was perfect. (Try it. Do a search with quotations around "God of Hope") So,what were the odds of these this quote and scripture coming together today? I'm not a mathematician, but I bet pretty slim, but we have a big God who has his hand on our circumstances. 

We are told that the "God of Hope" is ready to fill us up with something better than fear. Joy and peace. When we are full of joy and peace, there is less room for fear. The power of the Holy Spirit is greater than anything we have to face today, tomorrow or the next day. 

Hope, also, has the power we give it. We can choose hope over fear. 

Today, I am grateful we can limit the power of fear.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Mama Ina Mae

Year 8-Day 112: Today, I am grateful for my Mama Ina Mae’s Birthday.
"When you obey my commandments, you remain in my love, just as I obey my Father’s commandments and remain in his love. I have told you these things so that you will be filled with my joy. Yes, your joy will overflow! This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you" -John 15:10-12
Her joy overflows! Not grief, or disease... or life’s tough stuff can steal her joy. She is Proverbs 31.
She grew up with one glass of milk a day, because milk was for the babies and she was the oldest of seven born in ten years. Some become selfish. She is the most generous person I know.
She taught me "necessity was the mother of invention" and "no one can make you feel inferior without your consent." She taught me the opinions of the masses don’t matter but you had better be true to the Lord.
Image may contain: Judy Bess Hanson, sitting and stripesShe taught me to serve in love or it doesn’t really count, because God knows your heart. She was an example of serving with expectation of reciprocation. She served with a heart full of gratitude because she had something to give.
She taught me that God gave us wonderful plants and teas for healing. She taught me that God designed our bodies to heal themselves... we should let them try and seek medical help if they can't. She modeled respect for the ways of other people and cultures, always believing we can learn from people who are different than us. She was right.
She taught me music! She was harder on me than her other students... so she would teach me from another room correcting my mistakes with her sharp ear. It worked. When I surpassed her, she advocated for me with my Dad for lessons at Olivet. She wanted my teacher to be her old friend, Dr. Ovid Young. I ended up with another professor teaching me, because Ovid was too busy, but I will never forget her fierceness for the cause. Mama had to teach three lessons in her home music studio to pay for one of my lessons at the college. I am sure, in my teens, I didn't always appreciate her sacrifices on my behalf.
She provided an amazing example of a Godly wife and mother. I am still a work in progress.
She taught me to be bully proof when I was hurt by fickle friendships. She said, “Oh Valerie, Be thankful. If they are picking on you, they are leaving someone else alone.” In other words, “You are strong enough to face hard stuff and I believe in you.” She built us up in ways I didn’t understand.
She taught me that reading was a gift, even though it was hard for her. What she read, she remembered. Smart... just not fast. She put Nancy Drew in my hands in second grade and took me to the Library whenever I was out of books. She taught me the most important book was the Bible, because it is the one I would be help accountable for reading.
She is a gem... rare and priceless. 7 decades of refinement have only made her more special.
She’s my Mama. Her birth was a gift to the planet. Love you, Mama.
Today, I am grateful for my Mama Ina Mae’s Birthday.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

A Perfect Trio

Year 8-Day 110: Today, I am grateful a perfect trio. 

There is something incredibly calming about the sound of the waves kissing the shore. Do you ever feel a pull to the water's edge? Is it the song of the waters or the scent? I think these elements are part of the call, but I think it is all about the peace we feel when we are there. Perhaps is simply a perfect combination. 

There are some perfect trios in the scriptures: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Our beliefs are anchored in the Holy Trinity. Either we believe, or we don't. 

The world seems crazier than normal right now. In the uncertainty of what our leaders will do next, we can rest assured that none of them will save the world or even the day in most cases. Where we see the good stuff happening is any place people are tuning out the noise and drama on the television and internet feeds to focus on the these three things:

"And now these three remain: Faith, Hope & Love, but the greatest of these is love." -1 Corinthians 13:13

Yes. Faith, Hope & Love are evidence that we have not been abandoned, but that his Spirit is alive and well in us. Because there is free will, some humans will choose to act selfishly. Others will embrace their calling. They will present their bodies as "living sacrifices" to help a world in need. They will lay down their lives for another. 

Today, I am grateful a perfect trio: Faith, Hope & Love.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

Mistakes We've Owned

Year 8-Day 109: Today, I am grateful for we can own our mistakes so they no longer own us! 

We all make mistakes. The curse of trying to do things 100% right all the time is perfectionism. It keeps us stressed and it keeps us from experiencing the freedom in owning a mistake. Yes, freedom. 

We grow and learn so much more through failure than success. We become more mature as we try to reconcile disappointments and unrealized dreams with the reality that life is rough sometimes. Bad things happen. They are often unfair, because there is sin, evil and selfish ambitions in this world.

Yet, we are called to love. Love big. Love loud. Love when you're tired. Love when you been quarantined together for more than a month. 

Love when when others make mistakes. Show yourself some grace when human imperfections make the person in the mirror a disappointment. 

Failure isn't final. Our Savior set us free and elevated us to joint-heir status. He died for all of us... but he would have completed the mission for even and only one. The heaven's rejoice at one soul set free. 

Don't carry your mistakes around like they are a final determination on who you are. That is unacceptable to our Heavenly Father who made each one of us unique and special.

"When you own a mistake, it no longer owns you." -Lisa Bevere

Let go of the fear and let Love reign. Love is waiting. God is love. 

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.-1 John 4:18

Today, I am grateful for we can own our mistakes so they no longer own us! 

Friday, April 17, 2020

Gentle Reminders

 Year 8-Day 108: Today, I am grateful for gentle reminders.

"Remember when we were little and had underwear with the days of the week on them? Yeah. Those would be helpful right now." 

A little laughter always makes the day better. This meme hits home. What day is it? It is hard to keep it straight when all the days are so similar. I had not thought of those little undies in years, but I know April and I had them. 

All the days of the oppressed are wretched, but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.-Proverbs 15:15

Keeping it today simple. Thinking about ordering that underwear. 

Today, I am grateful for gentle reminders.

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The Space In-between

Year 8-Day 107: Today, I am grateful for the space in-between the stimulus and response. 

I read the book "Man's Search for Meaning" in college for a class. I probably need to re-read it someday, but this quote was my favorite: 

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” ― Viktor E. Frankl, Man's Search for Meaning

He, also, said:

"Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is a power to chose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom." -Viktor E Frankl 

The man survived a Nazi concentration camp. He lost his family. He lost everything. He refused to surrender his soul and his dignity. Some call it courage. He calls it a choice. 

The apostle Paul give the perfect example of this kind of choice in one of my all-time favorite passages. 

"For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past. And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die.  For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better." -Philippians 1:21-22

As my sweet Mama Ina Mae lives with joy in the midst of Huntington's Disease and my treasured brother-in-law, Monte, battles cancer again... they both have amazing attitudes and peace in their souls. They both know who holds their tomorrows. They trust His hand and His plan. It is humbling to watch them walk in the space in-between the stimulus and the response. It is sacred, holy ground, because they know they are never alone. They have a freedom in knowing however the day ends... they win. 

Today, I am grateful for the space in-between the stimulus and response.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Complete Surrender

Year 8-Day 106: Today, I am grateful for complete surrender. 

"You see, a potter can only mold the clay when it lies completely in His hand. It requires compete surrender." -Corrie Ten Boom

When the days seem bleak or dark, I often turn to Corrie Ten Boom or Elizabeth Elliot for inspiration. Both women endured great difficulties, painful losses and came out the other side so in love with the Lord that they nearly glowed with the Spirit. Both women had faced situations where they had to surrender to the Master Potter or go their own way. Both chose to trust in God's plan and his hand. 

The potter and clay analogy makes me think of our Morton Mascot, "Clay Potter". His head is a piece of pottery. We have taken some abuse over the years for our "Potters" mascot. Then came Chris Carter. Our Jr. High assistant principal and AD has personally taken on the mission of making Clay into a mascot we can be truly proud to call our own. 

Honestly, in the eight years I've been on staff, I think he has accomplished his mission. Children now recognize and look forward to seeing Clay at events at their schools and in the community. Clay has been molded into a mascot that loves representing our community. Surrendering to the reality that our mascot is a piece of potter was the first step. Then we had to embrace it and make it good. Yes, Clay is a rock-star these days. 

Surrendering isn't always easy. Our human natures fight it. It is where trust truly takes root. "Thy will be done.". It is how Jesus taught us to pray when he was asked how to approach the Father in prayer. To find real peace in the trials and storms, we must learn to leave it in His capable hands. He is the "Master Potter". 

Today, I am grateful for complete surrender. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Seasons Of Isolation

Year 8-Day 105: Today, I am grateful for the lessons learned when we are alone. 

"The caterpillar grows wings during a season of isolation. Remember that next time you're alone. - Mandy Hale

We are in a season of isolation. We didn't ask for it, but here we are. I've heard quiet confessions as some of us are finding mixed blessings hidden in this season of slowing down. As we practice intentional distancing from the chaos and the crowds, some are finding something unexpected... a quiet contentment.

Too much isolation is unhealthy for man. God designed us for relationships... with Him and each other... but so many of us have spent decades on the run with little time for real relationships. We've been living tightly wound, with very few margins in our days. There is little room to take a deep breath. We ride the merry-go-round, but we never really enjoy the ride.  

Here we are in the midst of something scary, tragic and difficult, yet many of us are breathing a little easier in this forced waiting place. Yes...we are living a semicolon existence; paused and unsure of what comes next. We need to really pay attention to what comes next.

While some are focusing on the fear, others are finding a quiet place of hope and faith. In the midst of the most difficult days of fighting an unfamiliar virus as a patient, loved one or caregiver, courage blooms and loving kindness spreads. (Check out John Krasinski's "Some Good News" on YouTube)  When face to face with that thing you fear most... sometimes...  you have to relentlessly choose to press in and press through. 

We are a few days past Easter, the celebration of resurrection is still fresh in our minds. Such a victorious ending to what felt like a disaster only five days ago. A little time and a little perspective can change so much. But, there are times when hard stuff is just that... hard. 

I remember when Jesus heard that the King's daughter had asked for John the Baptist's head on a silver platter. Jesus had been actively preaching, teaching and healing people to the point of exhaustion when word came about his cousin, John's death. 

Jesus and John the Baptist had been boys together, born months apart. Both were miracle babies. Their mother's were cousins and close friends. News of John's death by beheading must have been devastating. Still, the people pressed in on Jesus, never allowing him to pause and grieve. He was nearly forced to keep going. Then, he took an intentional break from the people... even his closest friends and disciples. He isolated himself.

As soon as Jesus heard the news, he left in a boat to a remote area to be alone. -Matthew 14:13

He chose alone in the boat and the wilderness so he could be still in the presence of the Father. He could weep, pray or maybe take a nap. We don't know exactly how he spent the time, but we know it was a time to recharge. We know that he would rejoin the disciples later that night in a boat by walking to them on the water. His miracles were increasingly bold and extraordinary. 

The tragedy of John the Baptist's death was real. we know Jesus had the power to resurrect John like he did Jairus's daughter and  Lazarus, but he didn't. Jesus prayed through the sorrow and did not "undo" the evil. Two thousand years later, we can't explain why he allowed it, but we can trust His heart and His hand. Perhaps this passage gave him comfort: 

Good people pass away; the godly often die before their time. But no one seems to care or wonder why. No one seems to understand that God is protecting them from the evil to come. For those who follow godly paths will rest in peace when they die. -Isaiah 57:1-2

John the Baptist had gained new life. He would be spared the evil to come, the earthly experience of watching Jesus die. When more than one gospel records something, it appears to be something very important. Important enough to be emphasized by more than one recorder and reporter. Look at this passage:

"A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart." -Matthew 12:35 & John 6:45

Good and evil are still co-existing on this planet. One day, that will change, but until it does... we will face trials and trouble. It doesn't mean God is absent or doesn't care. It means that we do not see as he see. We are looking through human eyes and not God goggles. Jesus intentionally took time alone ... as my GPS would say... to "recalculate". 

Pause. Ponder. Pray. Proceed. In seasons of isolation, we can practice doing the same. It changes everything. 

Today, I am grateful for the lessons learned when we are alone. 

Monday, April 13, 2020

He is risen indeed!

Year 8-Day 104: Today, I am grateful "He is risen, indeed!" 

The day after Easter. Does everything go back to normal? 

This year, nothing feels normal with quarantines and Covid-19. Right? But this IS the day after Easter. Nothing should feel normal. We have new life. We have been redeemed. We are joint heirs with Jesus when we respond to the offer... the gift... the victory... and embrace a new life.

I just watched Liz Curtis-Higgs talking about the women of Easter morning. She always make me smile. She can tell a story like few others. Her retelling of the Easter morning events brought it to life, erasing the 2000 plus years in between. 

After the women reported to the men what had happened, some of the guys ran to the tomb. Did they not believe the girls? Let's face it, we are inclined as humans to want to see things for ourselves. 

This little snippet of scripture adds additional credibility to the women's story:

saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!” -Luke 24:34

As Jesus appeared initially to a select few, and then to his disciples in a group... they were slowly able to process the reality of the incredible. They were witnesses to the crucifixion, the burial and then... the proof of resurrection. 

As word of the resurrection spread, so did the anticipation of seeing Jesus for themselves. In time, the proof of his resurrection was hard to deny as more and more people encountered Jesus. Some were hoping for the experience. Others were surprised when Jesus showed up unexpected. 

Is that how it is today? While some long to spend time with Jesus, others are surprised when He shows up. Miracles are still happening. His resurrection is still bringing new life.  

Today, I am grateful "He is risen, indeed!" 

Sunday, April 12, 2020

An Empty Tomb... Not an Empty Church

Year 8-Day 103: I am grateful today is about an empty tomb... not an empty church. 

I love that line I've seen many places in this past week. 

This is the most sacred of Holy days for the Christian. If we don't believe in the resurrection of Christ, the rest doesn't mean much. There are good people who worship God in many ways... "God as they know him" is the popular phrase. What it truly means to be "Christian" is what we believe in our hearts without a doubt or wavering; it is about who Jesus is and what he came to do. 

Jesus was, indeed, Heaven's Special Forces on a mission that took about 33 earth years to complete. In reality, the clock is God's timing, which is a mystery to us. The earthly timing had to be just right, from our point of view, too. His earthly parents had to be carefully chosen and ready to take on the gifts and challenges of raising a Holy child. Prophecy had to be fulfilled in very specific ways to bear proof that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. The perfection and execution of His plan is mind blowing... leaving the mathematicians speechless. 

I was thinking this week about his preparation for what we know as "Holy Week" from Palm Sunday through Resurrection Sunday. How did Jesus prepare? What is basic training for crucifixion? 

After prayer and reading, I wonder if the real preparation for Calvary happened in the 40 days he spent in the desert fasting and praying. Hungry, thirsty and fully aware of his human skin, Jesus took on Satan's temptations. He endured the hunger and the thirst as a warrior. He was so weak at the end of the spiritual warfare, angels rushed to attend him. He had no human strength left.(See Matthew 4) Today, many faith denominations practice 40 days of giving something up for the Lenten season, honoring Jesus's time of testing in the desert. 

I heard a clergy person speak recently about the past weeks of "giving up" many of our favorite things. What is God trying to say? Are listening? Don't misunderstand. I don't believe God sent this disease, but He is allowing it. We have had a chance to slow down and really focus on what we think we need and what we really need. 

There is so much to ponder as we celebrate in a unique way this Easter.I find myself remembering that the first Easter was celebrated not in a church, but in a garden near a tomb. A garden is a beautiful place. It is full of birth and rebirth each spring. 

How appropriate, right? We are used to celebrating as a congregation... and I do enjoy the unity in a congregational celebration... but I find myself reflecting on Mary Magdalene's weeping in the garden, alone near the tomb.(John 20) It is when Jesus appeared to her first. She felt lost, without a purpose and brokenhearted. Easter for her happened when Jesus gently spoke her name. 

Yes, Easter was first celebrated in a garden near a tomb with a handful of women... and, then, in a house with an upper room where scared to death and defeated men were hiding. They ran to the tomb, for seeing is believing, right?  

Are we in some ways, closer to that first Easter experience than we even realize? Where will you be when Jesus speaks your name? Where will you sit when you finally hear his voice calling you back into a relationship with him? It is what our souls long for with every breath. It is where there is peace. No matter what situation the world has created for itself, close to Him is where we can breathe deeply again. 

We do not need to be discouraged or defeated. Death has been defeated and no longer has a hold on our souls. When we say, "Yes, Lord, you are mine and I am yours." We will drink the cup and eat the bread in memory of His sacrifice, His love, His purpose... and my friends, His victory. We win... because Jesus won. 

"He is risen. He is risen, indeed!" 

"He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen." Matthew 28:6a

For every soul set free... Satan loses... again. He's a big loser. He's a crabby, lying, cheating, sore loser. That makes me almost giggle. 

The church is stretching far and wide today wherever we speak the truth of His resurrection. It is alive and well in the homes and hearts of all who say "Yes to The Best". 

Today, I am grateful today is about an empty tomb... not an empty church.